In my teens, I frequently watched baseball games on television and my brother, Kevin, would walk by and spitefully berate me by informing me that "sports is my god."
It happened quite often. I realized that he simply tried to foment a reaction from me, so I would shake it off and not give the chastisement—or him—a second thought.
Kevin is only 15 months older than me. I attributed his chiding simply to his age and his narrowness of mind.
But you want to know something? Looking back on the years between then and recent years before I surrendered my life completely to Christ, I realize Kevin's pillory had unwittingly become correct. Indeed, for me, sports had become an idol.
And by the way, Kevin is preaching God's Word in a small church in Du Quoin, Illinois, these days.
Sports had become my main focus in life, and it's all I really cared about despite my mother's diligent attempts to prompt me to read the Bible, pray and worship God. Instead, I was worshipping the "god" of Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. I had made him and St. Louis Cardinal baseball players like Ozzie Smith, Keith Hernandez and Tommy Herr figurative "graven images."
Rick Warren says the Bible "has a word for whatever we place our trust in rather than God. The Bible calls it an 'idol.'"
We all know what else God's Word says about idols, don't we?
- "You shall not make for yourself any graven idol, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water below the earth" (Ex. 20:4, MEV).
- "Those who follow vain idols forsake their true loyalty" (Jonah 2:8, MEV).
Indeed, I had forsaken what should have been my true loyalty, Jesus Christ. For most of my life, I have rabidly rooted for the Cardinals in baseball and for the Crimson Tide in college football. Until recently, they dominated by thoughts and conversation.
And forget about when either wins a championship. That's when money entered the picture and I would give into my flesh and spend hundreds of dollars on championship memorabilia—on credit. What a waste.
I made sports writing my profession, and it ruled my life for many years. Sports first, family second, and then God somewhere else down the list. I don't believe a job in the sports industry is idolatrous (I thoroughly enjoyed the perks for years), but it can be. There has to be a balance.
Ashamedly, sports stayed at the top of my list until God figuratively hit me over the head in the past few months and said to me, "Son, I've waited a long time. Don't do that any more. I don't like being second to something so trivial, and your family deserves better."
In essence, I needed an idol extraction. I wasn't being fair to my wife, my children and, most of all, God.
I prayed for God to help me put sports in its rightful place. Indeed, the Lord led me to a humbling revelation. My prayer life is better, my time in God's Word has improved drastically and my time with my family continues to increase.
And while I do still enjoy watching both the Cardinals and the Tide, they don't consume me, and they don't consume my conversations. Praise God.
It may seem like an innocent attraction, but such idols cheat not only God from His just due, but also your family. It takes away what should rightly be their time with you, simply because you can't tear yourself away from the television. And Internet technology certainly hasn't helped in that regard, either.
There are all sorts of things of which we can make idols. Our sports teams, playing golf, drinking, gambling, television, the Internet, video games, our jobs and, yes, even our families and church (we can chase things at church without chasing God). Anything we put before God is an idol. It is something we either must put away completely or severely scale down.
As our publisher, Dr. Steve Greene will write about on Friday, our society has deemed Black Friday more important than Good Friday. Sorry shoppers, that's an idol.
In Psalm 31, King David contrasted his devotion to God with the diluted worship offered by many Israelites by saying, "I have hated those who regard useless idols; But I trust in the Lord" (Ps. 31:6, NKJV). Obviously, a person who clings to idols cannot commit his spirit into God's hands. When we put today's idols (wealth, material possessions, success) first in our lives, we cannot expect God's Spirit to guide us. God is our highest authority and requires our first allegiance.
Is there anything in your life that an outsider might consider an idol? The pursuit may even appear harmless or even virtuous, but we must all take an honest inventory of our lives. If something steals an unhealthy amount of time out of our day from God and from our family, pray about it and ask God how He can curtail its importance in our life.
"So, my beloved, flee from idolatry" (1 Cor. 10:14, MEV).
And as I always like to say, "there is that."
Shawn A. Akers is the online managing editor at Charisma Media. He is a published poet and published a story about Dale Earnhardt in NASCAR Chicken Soup for the Soul. You can read his blog here. To sign up for his newsletter, "Step Out of the Boat," and other Charisma newsletters, click here. You can also listen to his podcasts, the Javelin Sports Show, on the Charisma Podcast Network.
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